How a shrinking nation is turning desperation into inspiration
I remember the moment in school when I was taught that the world’s population was 6 billion. More than two decades later, we’ve hit over 7.5 billion, and counting (World Bank). We now live in a time of greater global access to food, shelter, healthcare, and–through extraordinary technological advancements–overall improvements to society.
Contrary to this general trend of population growth, the Japanese population has been on the decline. The current population is about 127 million (Worldometers), and the government projects a decline to 90 million by 2065, marking a 30% decrease (IPSS). Combine this news with the fact that Japan boasts the highest life expectancy in the world, and you inevitably get reports of adult diapers selling better than baby diapers.
As an investor, it’s through these macro demographic shifts that I see an opportunity to truly make a difference. How can Japan shine a light on and alleviate issues related to its aging population that other nations are facing or will face in the future? Fortunately, technology is offering solutions to help us navigate this unknown terrain.
Firstly, population decline results in a diminishing workforce, especially in repetitive office jobs and physically demanding environments, such as warehouses and farms. Technology is already filling these gaps with drones for farming and protecting crops, and robots that receive, sort, and deliver packages in a fraction of the time it would take a person.
It’s no accident that robotic process automation (RPA) companies like Automation Anywhere have found success in Japan, using software bots to allow workers to focus on higher-value projects instead of mundane tasks. An added benefit of using robots is that they don’t need to rest like we do, resulting in more efficient output with no human errors.
One cannot overstate the significance of RPA in decreasing workplace injuries and overall physical ailments caused by long-term stress on the body. When it comes to longevity, the key is to not only increase life expectancy, but also how long people stay active and independent.
This field presents another significant opportunity for Japan to revamp the current healthcare industry’s status quo. Take geriatric care as an example. Japanese telemedicine services like Pocket Doctor and Clinics already provide consultations through video conferencing–a crucial feature for those in remote communities or who don’t have easy access to medical facilities.
A world where patients can have their health monitored through wearables and other Internet of Things (IoT) devices is already here. Instead of being hooked up to a cumbersome vital signs monitor, which ties the patient to one place, they can simply wear a watch that sends their vital signs over the Internet, greatly improving their quality of life.
A number of recent fatal car accidents in Japan have revived a nationwide conversation about elderly drivers. While it may make sense to give up driving if you live in a densely populated area with access to world-class public transit like Tokyo, I expect mobility technology to scale rapidly in rural areas, where population decline is most severe.
Autonomous driving has had its setbacks, from accidents to issues with sensors not working correctly in inclement weather. I believe Japan is an ideal testing ground for this technology because of the country’s shorter, clean streets without potholes (Sidenote: I live in California) and pedestrians who actually obey street signs (Again, I live in California).
A focus on elderly passengers can also fuel the growth of peripheral technologies, such as the bump-absorbing active suspension developed by ClearMotion, which helps with motion sickness.
At first glance, many new technologies come across as pie-in-the-sky ideas, but we are already seeing signs of progress in each industry mentioned in this column. I am fortunate to have the opportunity to meet, collaborate with, and invest in people who are relentlessly working to make an impact on society. We can’t change the world alone, but we can contribute to the betterment of all, one entrepreneur at a time.
About the Author
Gen Isayama has extensive experience in venture capital, finance, and entrepreneurship. He founded World Innovation Lab (WiL) in 2013. Before WiL, he was partner at DCM Ventures, specializing in online media, mobile, and consumer services. Gen is a member of various Japanese government committees, including the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, and Internal Affairs and Communications, to promote entrepreneurship nationwide.